Tara Brach is a spiritual teacher who focuses on the importance of inner compassion and kindness. She is famous for her book ‘Radical Acceptance’ and her ‘RAIN’ (Recognise, Allow, Investigate, Nurture) methodology used for processing difficult emotions. In a recent youtube talk titled ‘Transforming your relationship with Anxiety’, Tara covered the ways in which fight, flight and freeze responses show-up in the brain. I found this particularly interesting as I feel these responses tend to be most often described through their physical sensations, rather than their mental impact.
When we are locked in a reactive trance, and fight is dominating, this is likely to be visible through chronic judgement or passive aggression. Often, the greatest target of aggression is ourselves. We can be deeply critical of ourselves, which is often caused by an underlying presence of shame.
Flight arises through defensiveness, we withdraw and may sleep a lot. We look for ways to numb our pain, and immerse into work, online or other addictions to avoid facing the underlying feelings. The primary mode of flight is obsessive thinking, and we can often find ourselves stuck in trances covering the same problem over and over again from different angles.
Freeze happens when there is unresolved trauma. This can make us feel numb, removed or disassociated with life around us. We can feel trapped in the body, unable to make decisions, confused or helpless.
All of these states have the following features in common:
- When you are in a reactive trance, you are disassociated from your body
- In those moments, you cannot feel your feelings authentically
- At those times, there is no access to compassion
- The identity in these times is with a small part of your being, from the primitive survival brain, not your whole collective self
So how can these responses be managed?
The first step is often to calm the mind by activating the parasympathetic nervous systems. The following methods may help:
- Touch, put your hand on your heart of belly
- Resourcing – any words or images that help to bring back a feeling of safety
- Remove triggers
If you are keen to learn more about Tara Brach’s work, she has some great talks on youtube and a podcast all centred around the idea of ways to introduce more kindness and compassion into our lives.